Unity . . . At What Cost?

Special Report: Christian Colleges

by Steve Ham
Featured in Answers Magazine

Raising questions about Christian colleges’ views on creation and the Flood sparks condemnations of “divisiveness” and calls for “unity.” But when Jesus prayed for His disciples “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You” (John 17:21), what was He praying for?

The major survey by America’s Research Group, published in the book Already Compromised, questions the theological soundness at the core of many Christian colleges. When reputation is at stake, invariably many respond with accusations of divisiveness that sound something like this: “Christian colleges should concentrate on our unity in Christ and the essentials of the gospel, while tolerating different interpretations of Genesis.” Is this really the case?

At least believers can agree on one thing: our unity should be centered in Christ. We all desire unity. The question, however, is what kind of “unity” Christ really desires, and whether the foundational truth in Genesis is essential for Christian unity.

When Christ prayed for the unity of His church (John 17), He was referring to much more than mutual assent to a few basic “truths.” His call demanded a total commitment to God Himself, including all that He is, all that He loves, all that He says, and all that He does.

Christ didn’t just talk about the truth; He is the truth. He didn’t just give us the Word; He is the Word. You can’t separate one from the other.

So the real question is this: does a literal, historical understanding of Genesis 1–11 promote the unity that Christ desires? Or does it impair Christian unity and our effective presentation of the gospel?

True Unity Wouldn’t Undermine the Authority Behind the Gospel

Christian leaders who claim that only “the essentials of the gospel” should be the focus of our unity are forgetting that sinners only come to know Christ through His Word. We can’t downplay the Bible’s all-encompassing authority because we depend on it for answers to all our important questions about the gospel, such as:

  • How do we know we are all sinners?
  • How do we know that death is the penalty for sin?
  • How do we know that God’s Son became a man—the God-man, Jesus Christ?
  • How do we know Jesus died and rose again physically?
  • How do we know Jesus paid the penalty for sin on the Cross?

The authority of the whole Bible is foundational to the gospel. If His Word is not authoritative, in all its parts, how can anyone be sure that its message of salvation is reliable?

So when we question any part of the Bible, including the first eleven chapters that answer many of the basic questions above, the authority of the entire Bible—and the gospel that’s founded upon its authority—is undermined.

True Unity Wouldn’t Degrade the Supremacy of Christ

Most evangelical Christians will agree that Christ’s saving work on the Cross is the Bible’s central message. But the question is whether we can separate Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary from His supreme position as God, the Creator of all things (John 1:1–3) and the revealer of truth (John 14:6).

As God, Christ is the author of the Book that recounts His redemptive work. So if Christians question any part of the Bible, they are questioning the supreme authority of the One who is the ultimate source of our written record of the gospel.

If Christ is the preeminent revealer of truth, any search for truth must always start with Him, not human philosophies.

If Christ is the preeminent revealer of truth, any search for truth must always start with Him, not human philosophies. When Christian leaders encourage people to unite around flawed human interpretations of the Bible (such as the evolutionary view of earth history over millions of years), rather than Jesus’s own words (God’s recent creation in six literal 24-hour days), then we shift supremacy from Christ to man.

If a Christian claims to be committed to Christ’s centrality, how can he or she possibly tolerate such a shift, which degrades Christ’s supremacy?

Yet most of today’s calls for “Christian unity,” particularly in Christian academic circles, seek consensus around fallible human opinion rather than God’s infallible Word. Nowhere does Scripture teach unity through consensus. The truth from God trumps consensus every time. As Paul said, “Let God be true but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4).

Efforts to dethrone God by letting man decide truth (trusting man’s word above God’s Word) have plagued the human race ever since Genesis 3, when the serpent tempted Eve to question God’s Word.

In contrast, Christ’s prayer in John 17 shows what He is really seeking in the unity of His church: “That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You” (v. 21). Christ does not desire unity based on consensus. He desires that we join in the unity that has always existed in the Trinity. That unity comes when we submit to Christ, the Son of God, who is supreme over all men. Our job is to join in the Godhead’s unity, not to establish it.

In this same prayer, Christ asked that His church be kept in the truth—His truth (John 17:17–19). According to the Savior, biblical unity is centered in His everlasting truth found in His Word!

True Unity Wouldn’t Tell a History That Contradicts God’s Holy Nature

Scripture makes two amazing claims. It tells us that God is holy, pure, and perfect, but man’s heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). How can both be true, if God created man?

The only explanation that is consistent with God’s holy nature is the literal, historical interpretation of Creation and Adam’s Fall in Genesis 1–3.

God must have created a perfect and unblemished world, free of death, disease, suffering, and evil—otherwise His pure character would be in question. Adam’s sin is the only consistent way to explain the cursed ground, thorns, carnivores, groaning, and death of today’s world (Romans 8:22).

Only a literal understanding of Genesis makes sense of these facts, and of Christ’s need to come in the flesh so He could die and then rise again to conquer death and all the other consequences of man’s sin. Any other understanding of Genesis makes a mockery of the whole gospel.

Truth is essential to unity; this fact is echoed throughout Scripture. Ephesians 4:11–14, for example, says that God gave church leaders to equip believers “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” The end result is “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.”

If our unity is truly in Christ and Christ is God, then God’s character is vitally important. Those who teach an imperfect creation before sin essentially deny the Bible’s authority in Genesis and cast aspersions on God’s pure and holy character. If God has even one character flaw, then we can never have perfect unity because our unity is in Him.

Paul’s Call for Unity in the Church

While Paul condemned compromise with such empty human philosophies, he also condemned divisions among believers. The Corinthian church, in particular, was full of contentions. Some people were following Paul, others Apollos or Peter.

Paul’s solution was to exhort the Corinthians to follow God’s wisdom rather than human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:20–25). The apostle knew that the truth is found in Christ, and biblical unity can only arise within that truth. Paul stressed that Christ’s truth is not compatible with the man-centered wisdom of the Greeks (see verse 22 especially).

Acts 17 shows how Paul handled the great challenge of preaching to the unbelieving Greeks, who did not have any real understanding of biblical history. The Epicurean philosophers, in particular, held to an atheistic, evolutionary philosophy that all life had come from the one basic component of all matter and had evolved over long ages of time. To them, the preaching of Christ sounded like complete foolishness. Without a rewrite of their history, the Epicureans could not understand who Christ was and what He had done for them on the Cross.

This history set the stage for understanding why all humanity needed a Savior.

So Paul corrected their history. He first defined God as the Creator of all things. Then he proceeded to summarize the true world history, explaining that all people were of one blood—descended from one set of parents (through whom sin originated). This history set the stage for understanding why all humanity needed a Savior.

Paul was passionate about helping the Greeks come to salvation and to experience unity in Christ. To accomplish this goal, he believed it was necessary to show the Greeks that their philosophies were foolish compared to the wisdom that is in Christ.

How do you think Paul would feel to see so many modern Christian leaders embracing a new version of Epicurean philosophy (Darwinian evolution), even though it undermines the true history of Genesis, which Christ revealed in His Word so that sinners could understand their need for Him?

Surely Paul would be appalled. If anyone is guilty of divisiveness, it must be the church leaders who have compromised the Bible by teaching that the earth is millions of years old. If we Christians truly desire unity, it is high time that the church reviewed Christ’s prayer in John 17 and recommitted itself to unity in Christ alone.

Doing so could spark a new reformation, as happened in the sixteenth century. All it took was for Christians to reject their divisive leaders, who trusted in man’s word above God’s Word, and choose instead to stand on Scripture alone, placing their faith in Christ alone.

As God’s people reject such teaching, we should also appeal to our leaders to renew their hearts toward the preeminence of Christ, as they teach the whole counsel of God’s Word.

Steve Ham is the director of outreach at Answers in Genesis and author of several books, including In God We Trust. Steve and his wife Trisha have two children.

Answers Magazine

July – September 2011

Answers magazine is now in its sixth year of publication. To celebrate, we’ve produced a special double-length issue that features “the best of the first five years.” In addition to our regular departments and many new articles, we show all our timeless favorites (making this a truly collectible edition!). This special commemorative issue also makes a great gift item, which you can share with others who need to be challenged, encouraged, and equipped with some of “the best” in modern biblical creationism!

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